Ramy, a comedy/drama series that premiered last year on Hulu, reveals the multifaceted lives of the Egyptian American Hassan family, living in New Jersey. It’s a rare TV spotlight for Muslims in America. Season 2 dropped on May 29.
As the second season of Ramy opens, the titular protagonist's life has come to a stop. The routines and disciplines of Ramy's rededication to Islam and general stability have all but faded in another spell of depression. Ramy (creator/writer/actor Ramy Youssef) tells the Imam of his mosque that he's tired of finding pieces of himself through sex and porn, but gets only unhelpful advice. This conversation ignites the show's thread of shameful fixations around sex.
Awkward, funny, deadly serious
The show is pretty funny, but overall, stress dominates the narrative. This season spotlights our inevitable proximity to violence in America: Islamophobia, racism, queerphobia, and misogyny all make appearances. Men are beaten, threats are made, but the show tries to turn all these intense moments into learning moments.
Nearby, a new Sufi center led by Sheikh Ali (Mahershala Ali) takes Ramy in. He hurriedly enters a bay'ah, a spiritual contract, with the sheikh. From here, Ramy becomes very involved in his new community, shaking his depression and doing all he can to help anyone he can. But within these acts, he can't seem to shake the urge to lie. Some of these lies are to protect others, but they largely end in trouble. Ramy convinces himself that the choices he makes are to please others, but they really just center himself. Many awkward, sometimes funny and sometimes deadly serious things come from this.
Ramy’s father Farouk (Amr Waked) lies and stresses over his own problems, while mom Maysa (Hiam Abbass) is preoccupied with earning her citizenship, her Lyft rating, and understanding gender identity. His sister Dena (May Calamawy) turns to faith in paranoia of The Eye—an old superstition of suffering from bringing too much attention to one's self—and deals with assumptions about wearing a hijab.
Stereotypes and projections
Though the groups shown praying in mosques are diverse, Ramy centers around the Arabic Muslim perspective. The season's two Black leads, Sheikh Ali and his daughter Zainab (MaameYaa Boafo), deal with the racism engrained in America. Ramy's Uncle Naseem (Laith Nakli) projects stereotypes about Black Muslims on Ali and Zainab before having them thrown back at him about Arabs.
An unexpected episode from Naseem’s perspective reveals surprising secrets that are at odds with his general bigotry. Meanwhile, Ramy wrestles with his own taboos as family-related secrets slowly creep back in, following an open-ended treatment in the first season’s finale. He’s left to make a choice, and in the process hurts women he loves.
Regardless of their background, men dominate this show. The misogyny is disguised as wisdom or caution at times: a speech from the sheikh on "the plight of the performer;" Ramy's aversion to being alone with women; the way he believes sex workers in Atlantic City to be above the degradation he thinks they're putting themselves through; the outright ignoring of women in conversation, and more.
Rooting for Ramy
While it has its problems, Ramy is fun to watch. The cameras and lighting focus on people in quiet conversations, silences punctuated with visible emotion and the occasional song. The soundtrack is excellent, largely a collection of old and new Arabic music, including music from Habibi Funk Records.
Some dilemmas are resolved, though the season leaves many questions unanswered, including what's next for Ramy (no official word yet from Hulu on greenlighting a third season). Though in many ways Ramy is an antihero, I’m still rooting for him.
What, When, Where
Two seasons of Ramy are available to stream on Hulu.